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The Trap Door: Once More Unto the Breach

Arcadia of My Youth (1988)

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Arcadia DVD cover

One of those guilty pleasures I have as I turn into an old fart is the standalone, unexplainable anime film. Leiji Matsumoto understands that. Why else would he have created such an amazing character in Space Pirate Captain Phantom F. Harlock? In a franchise that rewards itself with reinventing itself, Matsumoto, in handing over directing duties to Tomoharu Katsumata and writing to Yōichi Onaka, helped create what I feel is THE definitive Harlock story: Arcadia of My Youth.

Set in the far future, when Earth and its Solar Federation has been established and settled, Space Corp's Captain Harlock returns home to find his world conquered by the Illumidus Empire and totally subjugated. Harlock cannot accept this. Rather than submit to his new masters, Harlock bands together with a brilliant engineer, Tochiro Oyama, and some of the Illumidus’ slaves to lead an insurrection. Using the new starship, Arcadia, designed by Tochiro, Harlock and his crew decide to set off to find help from the homeworld of the slaves, known as Tokargans, and stop the occupation of Earth.

Arcadia of my Youth Splash 1

Harlock isn’t trying to fight his destiny, he’s trying to be worthy of it.
What makes Arcadia work as a Harlock story is that it exists as the most clean-cut version of his origin. How did Harlock become a space pirate? Why is he fast friends with Tochiro? How did he acquire the Arcadia? This movie answers all of these questions and more. Over the years, Harlock's origin has been told and retold, because Matsumoto doesn’t believe in dragging his franchise along with a convoluted timeline. Every time you sit down to a Harlock story, he is the same and different at the same time. Arcadia’s prime reason for existing is that it is a self-contained story that is told neatly and compactly. My favorite part is how Tochiro and Harlock are friends.

Meeting in World War II, their ancestors forge a bond that traverses the ages, and when they meet in the 2960’s, they already feel like they know each other. This is completely implausible, but it goes toward understanding the vibe of the movie. Matsumoto is on record as being, hmm, set in his ways. He strikes me as a Romantic, albeit a little too fatalistic for my tastes, who doesn’t seem to like that Japan lost the war against the Allies. All of his Harlock stories have a “Fighting against impossible odds” bent, and Harlock comes across like a defeated man even before the battle starts. Arcadia is a boys adventure in the mold of a World War II novel—"Won’t it be glorious to die in battle" (and that sort of thing), violence and warfare are not glamorized, and all fights end honorably. Harlock goes into the adventure feeling he can win, but as the film progresses, he gets dealt bad hand after bad hand. Ironically, and maybe this was a deliberate act on the writers part, the humans who the Illumidus’ appoint as overseers come across as even more dishonorable than the Illumidus’ themselves. Make no mistake, they are ruthless, but they at least treat Harlock’s code of honor with amusement whereas the human administrators are perplexed and confused by Harlock wanting to fight the good fight.

Arcadia of My Youth Splash 2

Arcadia is a boys adventure in the mold of a World War II novel.
All the characters have reasons for fighting. Harlock’s, I’ve already stated. Tochiro doesn’t want to live under the Illumidus. Esmeraldas (a fellow Space Corp captain turned fighter) has the same kind of code of honor as Harlock, but she is less harsh in her delivery. Maya, Harlock’s former lover, is the Voice of Free Arcadia and a symbol of human resistance. She’s a standard, and she knows it. Even the Tokargans know it’s only a matter of time before their bosses turn on them. I should probably warn you that if you’re going into this thinking it will be good triumphing over evil, you might want to skip this. Nothing is really resolved by the end, and Harlock himself gets more personal heartache than most heroes should. Onaka, Katsumata, and Matsumoto like ‘em really tragic, I guess. All along the way, we see bits and pieces from the ancestors of Harlock who overcame problems themselves but didn’t defeat them: a desperate flight over Papua New Guinea, a fight to the death over the skies in WWII Europe. All these things are leading up to the latest version of Harlock. He was always destined to find Tochiro, always destined for heartbreak and personal loss, and always going to face his demons. The most uplifting thing about Harlock and Arcadia is that you can, much like Kipling tells you that you can, meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two impostors just the same. Harlock isn’t trying to fight his destiny, he’s trying to be worthy of it. Whether you’re watching the previous TV show, the subsequent TV shows, or OVAs (including the follow-up series to this (SSX Endless Orbit), Arcadia is the most Harlock story possible. I do like the other versions (I’m partial to Harlock Saga for some reason), but Arcadia is my favorite.

Arcadia of My Youth Splash 3

While I've always liked the design work in Harlock, Arcadia has all the parts you'll recognize—from the Arcadia's layout to Harlock's dress sense. It's all high collars and huge goddamn boots for everyone. The Arcadia is one of my favorite fictional ships because it's so impossible as a design: a huge steel hull with a massive skull and crossbones on the front of the hull and a Spanish galleon's stern complete with wood finish and Jolly Roger that despite the laws of physics, somehow blows in space. While the animation could be described as perfunctory, where it really excels is in the nebula scenes as the Arcadia struggles to save itself from the ionized gases' vice-like grip. Energy wakes, plasma tails, and a multi-coloured background has the Arcadia set in stark contrast against the sky. It's a film in love with animation, and the animation is happy being in love with the film.

Arcadia of My Youth Splash 4

It's a film in love with animation and the animation is happy being in love with the film

Sadly, this is one Trap Door title that is truly out of print. Animeigo put out a DVD in 2003 after Best Film and Video put a version on VHS entitled My Youth in Arcadia (the actual Japanese translated title), which ran uncut. Before that, Celebrity Home Entertainment put out a cut version called Vengeance of the Space Pirate. I’ve never seen the VHS versions, as the Animeigo DVD is complete with extensive liner notes. But as it is with Animeigo of late, it’s now out of print and running at forty-ish dollars on Amazon US. It’s up to you if you want to get it, but if you’re a Harlock fan, it is a good investment. Setting course across the cosmos, it’s leaving the Trap Door port with no bills to pay.

Otakon 2014: Hidenori Matsubara Discusses Character Design and Anime Shower Scenes

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Hidenori Matsubara, accomplished anime character designer, key animator, and animation directorLast weekend we had the privilege of speaking with veteran Japanese animator and character designer Hidenori Matsubara. You may know him from his work as a character designer on Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo, Ah! My Goddess, and Sakura Wars, but he has also worked as a key animator and animation director on series like Evangelion, Bubblegum Crisis, and Perfect Blue. He's also part of the team developing director Sunao Katabuchi's new film at studio MAPPA, In This Corner of the World (we've got more on that film in our upcoming con coverage).

David sat down for a 15-minute private interview with the artist, and later Evan, Ink, and David all sat in on a public Q&A panel where we threw in some more questions we had for Mr. Matsubara. We've included transcripts of both our interview and the Q&A below.

Hearty thanks go out to the Otakon staff, including press and guest staff as well as the translator, who helped organize both events, and of course, Mr. Matsubara himself. Enjoy!



The cover of Hidenori Matsubara's collected Illustration Works

What kind of reference material do you use when animating something? For instance, when animating a running sequence, do you watch a video of someone running, or observe people in real life?

If I were animating a running sequence, I might use footage, try running myself, or record myself running. I might find someone else to do the running for me and watch that.

How do you act out something that a human may not even be capable of doing?

Well, that just has to come from your imagination. But as for common real-life activities, I often do it myself or film someone else doing it.

As an experienced animator, you’ve moved a lot from studio to studio. What’s the difference in atmosphere and work environment between the studios you’ve worked at?

Well, what people are doing is basically the same...

So it’s indistinguishable?

The people are different. And the amount of mess that’s in the office.

What’s the neatest office you’ve worked at?

Studio Khara [the studio in charge of the new Evangelion films].

Was that just because they were new at the time?

That depends on the managers. It’s not really about new or old; it’s who’s running it.

At least in the Western anime fandom, there’s a fascination with the director Satoshi Kon. You came into the end of the production of Paranoia Agent. What was it like working with Mr. Kon for that little bit?

It was really only a couple scenes. Actually, I was at a rap party, and I had worked with Mr. Kon recently, but it had been a long time since then. At the party he said “your work hasn’t been as good recently.” But he said that scene was done well.

A lot of mechanical animation is now done using 3DCG. What are your thoughts on the transition from hand-drawn, 2-D mecha animation to 3-D animation?

It’s still the same whether it’s drawn by hand or on a computer… And of course, the original designs are still drawn by hand. I guess the animation is more detailed, because it’s done on the computer, but even now, Gundam fight scenes are done by hand. And those are done very well!

Aim for the Top! Gunbuster

Public Q and A Panel

(Audience) Thank you for coming. I’m a big fan of your works, particularly Aim for the Top! Gunbuster. Do you have any good memories from working on Gunbuster?

Here’s an interesting story. While we were working on Wings of Honneamise, the staff was reading the Japanese magazine Animage. They had a feature on the tennis anime Aim for the Ace, and then we said, “oh, as a joke, why don’t we do Aim for the Top?” which is the title of Gunbuster. So it’s kind of weird that the whole anime started off as a joke. Episode 1 was kind of jokey, but then of course the story turned serious, so I thought the difference was very interesting.

Thinking back, that was [Evangelion director] Hideaki Anno’s first directorial work. Before that he was mostly just an artist and animator, so it was really weird watching him work as a director.

This memory wasn’t very fun for me, but I was working too hard on Gunbuster while also working on the first Patlabor movie, and I dropped some of the keyframes, so I feel a little bit bad about that one. That was one of the worst memories in my career.


(Audience) I’ve been following your work for the better part of the last 10 years, and I’m just curious: at what age did you realize that you had to draw?

I guess when I was 5 or 6, when I became conscious of art. I attended the design department of a technical high school, so that was basically when I knew what I was doing with my career.


(Audience) You went to a technical design program? Have you produced any designs besides your character design work?

I designed a dryer. That’s all I remember. I was in the graphic design department. Looking back, there was a class on mixing pastel colors, and that was pretty tough work. You should try it out sometime, just to see, but it’s really hard to manage color. I mean, even after 30 years it’s still on my mind.

Galaxy Express 999

(Audience) What inspires your work?

I used to watch a lot of anime as a kid, during the heyday of Space Battleship Yamato. Then the Galaxy Express 999 movie came out when I was in junior high, and that was the first time I became curious about how anime is made.

Before I got involved, I kind of got the feeling that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy watching animation anymore, and I was right. I can’t just watch anymore. Plus, nowadays I’m just too busy to watch.

The Story of Perrine, part of the World Masterpiece Theater series

(Audience) Is there a particular artist or animator that you’ve looked up to in your career?

There are too many animators for me to name right now. But for manga artists, the ones I was reading as a kid: Osamu Tezuka, Moto Hagio, Leiji Matsumoto. That’s basically my generation; they’re all older people. Of course, some of them are still working now. When I was a child I was watching Yamato999Gundam, and an anime called Treasure Island. And of course all the Miyazaki works, especially Future Boy Conan, and the anime directed by Yoshiyuki Tomino before Gundam.

All these are titles most people would list as their favorites. But one of my personal favorites was in the "World Masterpiece Theater," based on a novel called En Famille. It’s pretty obscure so… [some audience members cheer] oh, you know it! It’s called The Story of Perrine, and that was the sort of thing that made me want to be an animator. Wow, people do know The Story of Perrine? That makes me really happy.


(Ani-Gamers) New animators in Japan often apprentice under more experienced artists. Who did you apprentice under?

I guess when you’re in-betweening you’re basically the apprentice of the key animator. In order to match their art style, you’re watching the the key animators work, and that’s how you get better.

(Ani-Gamers) On projects where you work as a key animator, who typically assigns shots to you?

Usually when you’re a key animator, the director or the animation director picks scenes from a storyboard and says “you do this scene.”

Sometimes directors are like “just pick whatever scene you like.” When I was young I wanted to do action scenes, so I deliberately picked robot fight sequences. But sometimes the director said “no, not that scene, you should do these scenes,” and they were often shower scenes of girls.

That happened a couple times, so I missed out on doing robot scenes, but I became known for doing some girl shower scenes. So now I just say upfront, “I can’t do effects or robot scenes.”

However, after having animated a bunch of young girls, it’s actually more interesting to do some older people, so The Count of Monte Cristo was very interesting.

Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo

(Audience) What do you think are the elements of good character design?

Basic art skills and anatomy are important. Does the character look well balanced and, when looking at the range of characters, do they all look the same or does each person look different? Can the designer draw not just the girls and the hot guys, but older people and kids too?

I think what makes a good character is not even design, but direction, so I think of design as really second or third in importance.

After I was drawing all the cute girls, the backlash to that was The Count of Monte Cristo. I was actually relieved that I didn’t have to draw cute people anymore.


(Audience) Now that you’re quite well established as a character designer, do you find that people come to you earlier in the process, and don’t have ideas for characters already in mind when they ask you to create designs?

I guess in this industry you just make friends and acquaintances, and you call on each other, so it really depends on whether it’s the beginning of the project or the middle.

For example, for In This Corner of the World, I was called basically in the middle of the project. They had already been working on it for a couple years.

Sometimes the studio has a character design competition and I just submit work to that. Or sometimes the team that you’re working in, when they have a future project they say “oh, just stay on board.”

One of Matsubara's designs from Sakura Wars

(Audience) When designing characters, do directors give you pointers or ideas as to what they want?

It really depends on the director. For some characters they give you a lot of freedom, but for others they’re like, “Oh, it really has to be like this.” For example, Mamoru Oshii, the director, always wanted his main heroines to have really short hair.


(Audience) What can other production departments (such as background artists and mechanical designers) learn from character designers?

When I was working on Ah! My Goddess I thought it was interesting that there were all these cute characters, but the robots in the background were hyper-realistic and the clothing was very detailed. So we had these fantastical elements like goddesses, but all the props and little things were very realistic.

I feel that, no matter how fantastical the story is, if there’s some part that’s based on reality, that tightens it up.

(Audience) Could you describe your experience working on the Eva films? Also, are you working on 4.0?

What kind of things do you want to hear?

Just your favorite experience.

Since Evangelion was already famous as a TV show, the premiere was sort of like a festival, so I guess that was very interesting.

As for 4.0, I’ve left the studio, so I have no idea what’s going on over there. I’ve heard some rumors, but nothing I can share, so I’m sorry.

Promotional Evangelion calendar art from Matsubara

(Audience) As a key animator working on the Eva films, what was the most challenging scene that you had to animate?

I was a key animator on the third movie. That one was directed by Masayuki, and that guy never found any scene acceptable. He has all these personal stipulations and rules, which made it complicated. When you’re animating something, no matter what title it is, the basics are still the same, but it wasn’t like that for him. For the part I was involved in, the staff was comprised of people who knew what they were getting into, but it was still difficult. When I saw the first two movies, I thought “oh, this is gonna be difficult,” but I was placed in a team, so I just had to suck it up.


Evangelion 3.0 director Masayuki never found any scene acceptable. He has all these personal stipulations and rules, which made it complicated.

(Audience) In contrast to Masayuki, who’s the easiest director you’ve dealt with?

Actually, there aren’t many difficult people, which is why I chose that example. I guess Sunao Katabuchi’s a little bit difficult. He has a lot of demands. When I have a lot of freedom it’s a little easier.

(Ani-Gamers) What was your experience transitioning from traditional animation to digital animation?

For me personally, nothing changed.

I mean in terms of working with a tablet rather than on paper.

I do everything in pencil. I don’t even own a tablet. I did have one at one point and I did three or four illustrations on it, but I just like being able to hold my art in my hands, so I gave up the tablet.

Sure, the ability for it to look cleaned up on a computer is advantageous, but it just doesn’t feel right to me.


(Audience) Depicting weight distribution and center of gravity is very important in bringing characters to life in animation. What techniques do you use to depict weight distribution, and with animators using digital tools today, what advice do you have for them in depicting weight distribution in characters?

I haven’t really made any characters on a computer… I think it’s more useful for designing mecha, not characters. Most designers I know work with pencil and paper, not tablets. Very rarely do they work on computers. But these days they’re starting to use them on titles like Arpeggio of Blue Steel.

In terms of examples of successful CG, I guess Arpeggio is one. Otherwise, there’s the ending of Pretty Cure.


(Audience) Have you ever had an inconvenience like a broken air conditioner or other workplace issue affect your work?

I mean, nothing so extreme, but I guess I’m just used to the mess level in anime studios. I think Studio Khara is the cleanest studio in the industry.

Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo

(Ani-Gamers) What techniques did you use to create the clothing effect in Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo?

There’s a CG computer program that can do that, and when the director Mahiro Maeda first started on the anime he was like, “hey look what we can do with a computer!” So I actually wasn’t involved in that part; it was all Mr. Maeda’s decision. By the time I came on board, they had already decided on that CG program, but the fact that we only had to do the outline of the clothing made it very simple for us.

We created a pilot film as a shoutout to animators to get them to apply to work on The Count of Monte Cristo — to say “the series will look like this.” The keyframes looked really simple, but the finished product was supposed to look more complicated, so all the animators thought it looked deceptively simple, and they thought “maybe it’s supposed to be more difficult than this…” We were surprised when very few people applied!

Once you become good at animation, you start to express more in the sillhouette. And so when the artist isn’t very good they think the fewer lines the better, but actually it’s more difficult.

One of Matsubara's illustrations from Sakura Wars

(Reverse Thieves) We’ve seen your designs for the Tokyo, Paris, and New York troops in Sakura Wars, but while you were doing character design for Sakura Wars, did they have you come up with some ideas for other countries’ imperial troops within the Sakura Wars games? And if they did, which country would you like to make designs for?

Since I’m Japanese, Japanese characters are naturally the easiest. Foreign characters are more difficult.

(Ani-Gamers) You named Space Battleship Yamato as one of your favorite anime series. How did you get involved with Yamato 2199, and what was your reaction to being able to work on the project?

It felt wonderful, of course! I volunteered though. It's not like they came asking me to be a part of it. I also came in late, so the production schedule was rushed. Initially it was eight months for an episode, but that shrank to two weeks per episode. It feels like I missed out.

Click here for more coverage of Otakon 2014.

Snapshot: Pregnant with Anime (Short Peace)

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"Opening," the first of five short animations comprising the Short Peace DVD/BD, has a running time of just three minutes, and yet I watched it continuously for near an hour and a half on repeat. In addition to getting lost in its engrossing mix of strange, beautiful art styles and animation, my awe was arrested at the climax upon recognizing the plot as a conceptual extension of the classic invocation of the muse. Whereas the typical invocation usually consists of a poet calling to the goddesses of creativity for their inspiration or aid in telling a tale, this introductory sequence portrays the allure of the resultant art to its audience as well as the transformational effects of that consummation.

The first scene begins with a shot of what seems to be an abandoned shrine or large compound rendered in a uniform style rich in color, deep with shadow, and filled with the sounds of nature. This is the “real world,” the aesthetic environment viewers assume nominal because it is the establishing shot. The point of focus is a young girl, whose design complements the environment perfectly to drive home the fact that she is obviously a part of that world. Covering her eyes with her hands while squatting beneath a torii, she seems to be playing hide-and-seek with someone not in the shot. “Are you ready,” the onscreen girl asks three times in between weighty intervals. Upon finally hearing, “Yes, I’m ready” from afar, she slowly swings wide her hands from her face, like petals opening to welcome the dawn, to find that everything around her has changed, including (and most notably) herself.

The girl, representing consumers of anime, is ready to find a familiar friend (a bunny) in a familiar environment, but what she finds is another world (art). The bunny, which can stand in for imagination or intrigue and most definitely safety in familiarity, is the girl’s guide. Initially, the scenery (animation) differing from that which the girl is used to only sporadically punctuates the surrounding environment. As she explores further, however, these instances of the unfamiliar become more common — morphing into entire landscapes with visual and audible inhabitants equally (if not increasingly) alien. But the girl does not get scared. Instead, she giggles and ventures onwards having found new things to enjoy in a place where she didn’t expect to (say, four short animated stories directed by as many relatively underappreciated talents).

After her unusual journey, a girl more like the one depicted in the very beginning is shown in a complementary, modern-looking hallway looking up at a glowing orb hovering like so much an oracle. It suddenly swoops down, flies up the girl's dress, becomes a tiny spec of light within the girl, lifts her up, and twirls her about. The girl has (literally) taken in the media. Again, she changes. This time, however, the change is via costume and not art style. The girl becomes anime stock character after anime stock character via rapid fire outfit changes. She’s become pregnant with and thereby possessed by stories. This is the depiction of catharsis itself. As the background dims and everything else quickly fades with it, all that’s left is that glimmer of light, the seed, the essence of the story, which then erupts into the title of the feature: Short Peace.

This is the media that the viewer is about to consume and by which be likewise changed. "Opening" is an amazing feat of (most likely unintentional) animated metaphor which readies its audince for the fantastic: that to which it has most likely not yet been exposed. This, after all, is the essence of Short Peace, which should be bought ASAP via TRSI or Amazon.

Ink’s review of the rest of Short Peace can be found over at The Fandom Post

Otakon 2014 Schedule and the Return of Otaku Bingo

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It's Otakon season again, and this year Ink, David, and I will all be down in Baltimore for the East Coast's largest anime convention, press badges in hand. We're looking forward to a lot of the events and guests at the con, including Sunao Katabuchi (director of Mai Mai Miracle), Hidenori Matsubara (character designer and animation director for Rebuild of EvaAh! My Goddess, and a number of other series), and Masao Maruyama (founder of studios Madhouse and MAPPA).

I will be on three panels, though unfortunately none of my own (I missed the panels deadline like an idiot this year). First off, my coworker Danika and I will helm the Crunchyroll Industry Panel on Friday at 3pm in Panel 5. We're trying to switch up the format a tiny bit to focus more on some of our personal favorite shows, so hopefully this turns out to be a fun industry panel. Then on Saturday at 10:15am in Panel 1, we're following that up with the Crunchyroll Manga panel, detailing the manga titles on our service. Finally, on Saturday at 5pm in Panel 7, I'm a guest (alongside a couple other cool anime writer folks) on Mike Toole's Write about Anime for Fun and Profit panel.

Otaku Bingo

They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, and at last year's Otakon there was a distinct absence of our annual Otaku Bingo game. I expect so much fondness this year, because it's back! We've compiled a list of some new and old squares, each representing some irritating or bemusing aspect of anime con culture. Print out your own copy and try to get Bingo while walking around the con! (If you're playing by the rules, the game doesn't begin until the con opens on Friday and it runs until it closes on Sunday.)

If you get a "BINGO," email us at otakubingo [AT] anigamers [DOT] com, tweet us @AniGamers, or leave us a post on Facebook, and we'll include your bingo card in a future post.

[Click here for a PDF of the Bingo card for you to print at home]

*We'll probably have some extra Bingo cards on-hand at the con too, but don't count on it!


In case you're looking to follow us around, or at least get an idea of what's good at the con, Ink's full schedule — subject, as always, to on-the-fly changes — is available below. See you there!

4:30–5:30pm: Sumo Demonstration Matsuri
7:15–8:00pm: Peelander Z Concert Matsuri

10:00–11:00am: Ghibli in Love (Panel 1) OR Intro to Josei (Panel 3)
11:15am–12:15pm: Katabuchi Q&A (Panel 6)
12:30–1:30pm: Light Novel Translation (Panel 1)
1:30–3:30pm: Mai Mai Miracle Video 1
4:15–5:15pm: Journey to the Stars (Panel 3)
4:15–5:15pm: Yukio Mishima: Samurai Poet (Panel 4)
5:30–6:30pm: Kurosawa: Romancing the Samurai (Panel 6)
6:45–7:45pm: Japanese Drinking Culture: Proper Etiquette and Presentation (Panel 5)
9:15–10:15pm: Totally Subversive Toons (Panel 1)
10:00–11:00pm: Japanese Whisky 101 (Panel 6)

9:00–10:00am: Amazingly Obscure Anime (Panel 1)
10:15–11:15am: Satanicartoons: The Devil (Panel 5)
11:30am–12:30pm: Drawing with Kozaki (Panel 2)
1:00–2:00pm: A Japanese Fairytale: The Dragon and the Shisa (Workshop 1)
2:00–3:00pm: Maruyama/MAPPA Q&A (Panel 3)
3:15–4:15pm: Matsubara Q&A (Panel 3) OR Kodansha Comics (Panel 4)
4:30–5:30pm: Katabuchi Q&A (Panel 1)
5:45–6:45pm: Fandoms/Facepalms (Panel 2)
7:00–8:00pm: Ai Yazawa: The Retrospective (Panel 5)
9:15–10:15pm: Sake 101 (Panel 6)
10:30–11:30pm: Measure of Man: Fate/Stay (Panel 4)
11:45pm–12:45am: Ninjas/Kawajiri (Panel 4)

9:00–10:00am: Visual Novel/Psychology (Panel 3)
11:30am–12:30pm: Sumo Q&A (Panel 3)
10:15–11:15am: When Moe Goes Bad (Panel 4)
12:45–1:45pm: Maruyama & Matsubara (Panel 4)

Drunken Otaku: Mi Cervesa es Su Cabeza (Natsuyuki Rendezvous)

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Nothing is more responsible for directing men and women to the bottle than love. In its name, alcohol is used—day in and day out—by the desperate for courage, by the libidinous to lubricate their carnal affairs, by happy couples for celebration and relaxation, by separate halves of frustrated pairs for mental escape, and by those who find themselves either recently or perpetually single for solace. But how often has alcohol been used by someone to sedate their warm body and anesthetize their reigning consciousness as to invite possession by a ghost who was also a romantic rival? Only once (that I have observed), which makes the following a truly great moment in drinking!

That scenario might sound far-fetched, but it’s an actual plot point in Natsuyuki Rendezvous. The best part is just how realistic the portrayal of humanity is, given the influence of overindulgence, in the situations leading up to said surrender. But first, some background:

Rokka is a 30-year-old florist who owns, manages, and lives above the shop that was previously her late husband’s (Atsushi). Hazuki’s been stalking Rokka for some time, stopping into the shop to buy plants he doesn’t need just to be able to get her fingers to grace his palm when she hands him change. Eventually he comes to work there, confesses to Rokka, and tenaciously tries to woo her. Atsushi’s been gone some 8 years (coincidentally the same age difference between Rokka and 22-year-old Hazuki), but he’s been invisibly hanging around Rokka the entire time and helplessly keeping watch over her. Needless to say Atsushi doesn’t appreciate Hazuki making moves on his former wife and does everything he can to dissuade him from disrupting their “life” together. This includes Atsushi repeatedly asking if he can “borrow” Hazuki’s body once it’s revelaed that Hazuki is the only one who has been able to see/hear Atsushi since his death.

With Atsushi’s proposal etching itself in the back of Hazuki’s mind via repetition like a penal colony sentence, he asks Rokka to Hanayashiki amusement park in a last ditch effort to nudge their relationship forward. He knows she’s been there with Atsushi before, but Hazuki hopes to scribble over that haunting memory by making Rokka smile himself in that same place. Hazuki’s a persistent lad, but Rokka wavers between wooed and woeful. Thus begins the drinking.

Both have a little beer before entering the park. Half a can ain’t much, but it’s just the confidence placebo Hazuki’s aggressiveness needs. After a forward advance in a private cabin in the clouds is thwarted by an all-too-abruptly ended ride, after a bridge crossing makes Hazuki into Eurydice, after hearing Rokka say she just can’t get over Atsushi, after being laughed at for bringing up sex, Hazuki snaps—his drive defeated, his ambition gone. Thus he accepts the final nail in the perceived coffin of this attempted manipulation of memory dressed up as a romantic outing: Rokka offering to end the date by showing Hazuki how to … open the shop (not a metaphor).

Before he can contemplate following Rokka into Atsushi’s old haunt, Hazuki opts for the sweet, emotionally numbing effects of beer. Using cigarettes as an excuse, Hazuki introduces his sorrow to a six-pack he downs in the park on the way back to the shop. Stumbling too slowly to avoid the poltergeist’s greeting, Hazuki near passes out from alcohol poisoning and, on the precipice of his inebriated slumber inspired by self-pity, agrees to let Atsushi borrow the flesh so recently rejected by his lady love.

If that situation ain’t enough to make ya wanna drink, what happens over the next seven episodes (let alone the very next episode) surely will. As for this great moment in drinking, there’s intentionally insensitive actions, rash decisions, emotional manipulation, finger sucking, the breaking of a soul’s resolve in the harsh face of honest laughter, and, ultimately, the transcendence of otherworldly boundaries via a staircase of beer cans reflecting the enlightenment of self-perceived failure. Thus a malty numbing of pain becomes the apathetic door through which Atsushi gains entry into Hazuki's head. What more could you want in a love drinking story?